That’s not a life but that’s Cuba!
“3 million are unemployed, 3 million are studying, 3 million are in jail, 1 million is retired and only 2 million are working” he tells us. It is hot, we are standing in the burning sun on the middle of a hill. “How can 2 million people work for the entire population of Cuba?”
We arrived this morning in Santa Clara. Paid our respects to Ernesto (Che) Guevara, visited the train that he derailed as the end of the insurgency and now we are told the other side of the story. Not everyone in Cuba thinks Che is a hero. But saying that out loud, even now, is quite risky.
He lives in the poorer area of Santa Clara. Sometimes they don’t have water. For weeks. There is no work so they share cars to guide people. People like us. His daughter is studying. “Medicina” he says. But there is no future. After study his daughter will become unemployed with no bright future ahead. Maybe she can work in a pharmacy and earn 20 pesos a month. Maybe not.
The Americans are coming. For many tourists a disappointment but not for the Cubans. They hope that the arrival of Americans will improve Cuban life by increasing tourism income. “Maybe one day we can even keep what we earn”.
We walk a bit further up the hill. On top of the hill is a statue of the last battle of the revolution. From here we have an incredible view over the city of Santa Clara. The city where one of the daughters of Che Guevara still lives, where his remains are buried and where the train wreck is the remembrance of the revolution.
Of course Che was a hero to many but in the end he, of course, was nothing more than one of the most ruthless and murderous people the 20th century had known. A world where people live together, no one is better than the other, no one has more power than the other. A world where people share everything. That might have been his idea but what he did was creating a suppression. A suppression that, nowadays, is still visible in Cuba.
“90% of the earnings of a cigar factory goes to the government. 10% of the income people earn from the Casa Particulares has to be paid to the government. On top of that the owners of a Casa Particulares have to pay 30 pesos a month for renting out their own rooms. Import and export are prohibited, therefore the people live of whatever the earth produces. There is no variety. The famous ‘Cuban’ cars are very cheap, however it’s hard to get components. People produce anything they can of which they have to pay the government more than half. That’s not a living but that’s Cuba nowadays”.
I stand in the burning heath of the sun on top of this immense hill. Once Che Guevara stood here, overlooking this city, this country. What were his thoughts? Would he have meant this to happen? Is this really what he wanted? I believe his intentions were good but the Cubans think otherwise. “When Che Guevara became minister he put a lot, a lot of people in jail. No second chances. No trial. Even nowadays there is no real freedom. There is no freedom of speech. Either written or spoken, you end up in jail if you ‘oppose’ the government. It’s a hard life here.”
He looks over the city where he has spent his entire life. I see the wrinkles of fatigue on his face, his eyes speak of a sadness. But then a twinkling of anger returns into his eyes. He looks at me. He smiles. The anger is nowhere to be found. The sadness is gone. “Luckily there is still salsa” he says, rubbing the sweat from his forehead and continues his way down. It occurs to me that how hard life must be for these people, they never lose hope, they never lose their happiness, their will to make things better. I wonder how it would be if the Netherlands faces a future like this. People would get depressed, cry, commit suicide. They wouldn’t get by. We are too spoiled.
We walk back to the car. The car that has one lever to open each window. That has a hole in the floor to watch the ground pass by when we drive. That has a small van that serves as air conditioning. But the car drives, doesn’t cost much and tourists love it. The driver smiles and the music works. What else would you want?